Former Stagecoach UK bus boss criticises Liverpool City Region’s bus franchising plans, citing ‘fundamental errors’ and concerns over funding
Montgomery criticised ‘19 fundamental errors’ in the bus franchising plans
Former Stagecoach UK Bus managing director Robert Montgomery has voiced strong criticism of the bus franchising plans for the Liverpool City Region, describing them as “bold on rhetoric and making a passable case for change,” but ultimately “once you get past there, it falls completely flat”.
Montgomery, who now works as a consultant after departing from Stagecoach in 2017, conducted a thorough analysis of the 558-page franchising assessment published in April. He claims he has identified “19 fundamental errors”in the plans.
Most fundamentally, there is no detail whatsoever on where the [extra] buses will run, how many additional buses and staff will be required, what they will cost and how they will be funded
“Most fundamentally, there is no detail whatsoever on where the [extra] buses will run, how many additional buses and staff will be required, what they will cost and how they will be funded,” he said. “There is no detail of how the development costs of those services will be met. Magically, lower fares won’t actually cost anything … really ?
“In amongst all the rhetoric, the cost of more services, revenue risk, financial sensitivity, uncertainty, smart ticketing, fares simplification, journey speed and reliability risk, demand trends and pension costs are unquantified and unfunded.”
Three key aspects of the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority (LCRCA) franchising aspirations, transitioning to a zero-emission fleet, lowering fares, and increasing services – are, according to Montgomery, fraught with risk due to being unfunded or partially funded, with some costs being “seriously underestimated.”
LCR mayor Steve Rotheram has championed reregulation as the solution to the area’s bus network issues, criticising existing provision as “too confusing, too unreliable, and too expensive.”
Under the LCRCA’s plans, franchising would be introduced in five tranches, mirroring the approach in Greater Manchester. The first tranche, centred on St Helens, could see publicly controlled buses launching in September 2026. A decision on proceeding with the reregulation exercise is expected from Rotheram before the end of 2023.
Despite his critique of the franchising assessment, Montgomery acknowledges that reregulation might ultimately be the best option for bus reform in the region. He emphasises that his analysis isn’t driven by ideological objections to franchising but by the poor quality of the proposal, which he believes fails to make a compelling business case as required by the Bus Services Act.
Montgomery also raises concerns about the inclusion of evidence from “discredited” proposals for bus service reregulation in North East England, which had collapsed some years ago.
It is crystal clear that the assessment is simply not fit for purpose and any decision based upon it to proceed would be reckless rather than rational
“It is crystal clear that the assessment is simply not fit for purpose and any decision based upon it to proceed would be reckless rather than rational,” concluded Montgomery. “It is simply not financially sustainable without the ongoing injection of substantial, and more fundamentally, unquantified amounts of public subsidy.
“If the mayor truly believes that franchising is the best way forward for the region’s bus network, he needs to level with the electorate on what the bill will be and what they will get for their money.”
Responding to Montgomery’s criticisms, a spokesperson for the combined authority, said: “The bus franchising assessment is a combined authority document that was predicated on factual data and independently audited by KPMG. The combined authority is still in the process of considering its consultation responses.
“Throughout every stage of this process, mayor Rotheram and the combined authority have been transparent about the financial options for both franchising and enhanced partnership models to ensure that the public receives the best value for money.
“Mayor Rotheram will be taking a final decision on the future of the city region’s bus network in the coming weeks.”
This article appears inside the latest issue of Passenger Transport.
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